The Monsters Beneath Our Beds

x. Returning Home

I woke up with a jolt. It took me a while to realise that I was in my messy bedroom and not in the Land of Monsters. There were the posters of my favourite movies that mum had helped me put up. Over in the far corner was my bookcase. Next to it was the desk dad had installed a few weeks ago when I started fourth grade.

Seated beside me was Grandma. She had been knitting something before falling asleep, the needles almost slipping from her grasp. I couldn't tell what it was but suspected it would be a warm jumper.

Everything was placed in its rightful place. It should have felt like home. But something niggled at the back of my mind. I knew that this was all wrong.

Had it all been a dream?

As I swung my legs over the side, Jester almost fell out from where she had been tucked in beside me. I reached out and grabbed her before she touched the floor and placed her upright against my pillow. I gave a peck on the forehead before I got out of bed.

Imagining myself as a teeny tiny mouse, I crept out of the room and gently shut the door behind me. How had I returned? Were mum and dad back as well? And what had happened with Mandy? My head was full of questions. None of which I had the answer to.

I tiptoed my way to mum and dad's bedroom. The door was shut. I knocked, three softs raps. Then I repeated it, a little louder. Silence greeted me. After waiting a few more minutes, I managed to scrounge up the courage to turn the knob. The door swung open with a creak.

Their bedroom was empty and dark. The lights were off and the bed was untouched. I took a nervous step inside. Suddenly, the door slammed shut. I whirled around, too late.

Grandma found me minutes later, curled up in a ball. With the patient of a saint, she directed me down into the lounge and once I had taken my spot on the comfiest armchair in the house, she ducked quickly into the kitchen. Within moments, she emerged once again with a plate full of cookies in one hand and a glass of warm milk.

"Hush now, Evelyn. It was just a bad dream. I know you're worried about your parents but they'll be back before you know it."

"Why can't they be here now?"

She gently patted my head. "Because the doctors need to do further checks, my dear. You know that. We went to the hospital together."

And as she said the words, the memory flitted through my mind. It had been noisy and there had been so many people. Thousands upon thousands had been crammed into the emergency ward and the waiting area. Some had been just as young as me. Others were a lot older and all hunched over. Then there were the people all dressed in a dark blue uniform.

Grandma had led us to a front desk and had asked for directions. We had been directed to the elevator and after asking for another nurse where my parents were, we had finally reached their lonely and quiet room.

"I know, nana. I just miss them so much."

"They're being well looked after, Evelyn. Don't you fear," said Grandma. Her words and her hand, stroking up and down my back, helped to comfort me. As did the cookies and milk.

Out on the landing, the grandfather clock chimed the hour. On cue, I let out a big yawn, my eyelids drooping. With a knowing smile, Grandma coaxed me back to my room.

Once she had tucked me back into bed, she settled again on her stool and picked up her knitting. "I'll be right here, Evelyn. If you need me. The Monster King won't get you here."

As I closed my eyes, I felt the tips of my mouth curve up into a smile. I was safe. I was warm. Grandma would always be there to look after me. My parents were only a day or two from coming back. All the bad things had just been a terrible dream. This was home. I didn't have to worry about anything or anyone, least of all Mandy. Why would I? She was just something I had made up. An invisible friend, as dad often said…

I jerked upright. That wasn't right. Mandy wasn't my imagination. She was real. More importantly, she was my friend. How could I have just pushed her away as if she had been a novelty carnival balloon that deflated after a day or two.

Suddenly, the room around me began to fizzle and bubble over. In horror, I watched as the familiar surroundings of my bedroom transformed into the stark white chamber inside the tower of the Monster King. Lying a metre away from me was my sword and my shield. I picked them up, feeling much better with their weight at my side.

There was no sign of Mandy or the Monster King, although it was clear that there had been a terrible fight. Several of the beeping machines lay on their sides. Beakers and vials lay shattered across the floor. Only the far side remained untouched. The two cots, housing their mysterious patients, had been spared.

As I made my way over to the cots, I wondered where Mandy was and if she was the one responsible for keeping my parents safe. Deep down in my heart of hearts, I knew that she would have done everything in her power to help me. The Monster King would have come second after the wellbeing of mum and dad.

A low whine stopped me just as I was about to pull off the sheets. Crouching down, I spotted a huge shadowy monster beneath the cots. I didn't know what it was. But it sounded hurt.

"It's okay. I'm here to help," I said, hoping to sound as encouraging as I could even as I reached out a hand. The creature shied away. It was clear that it was no threat to me or my parents.

I tried to edge towards it, hoping to have a better look at it and perhaps coax it out of hiding. In the gloom, it was hard to make out any distinct features. The creature looked almost like a dog. Not a Pomeranian like the one that the neighbours had, for it was much larger and shaggier, but a good breed that would have treated any child as one of their own.

"Don't look at me," it said in a rough gruff voice when I tried to reach for it. In that split second, I knew not only what it was but who.

Never in my wildest imaginings had I thought it possible for Mandy to be any more than what she had said she was when we first met in my front yard. Nervous and timid, it had taken a while for her to ask to join the tea party that consisted of Teddy and me. She had been so awkward in our first meeting it was sometimes hard to remember when she had become so fierce and braver than anyone I had ever known.

"Mandy. Is that really you?"

"Please don't come any closer, Evie. I don't want you to see me like this." She turned away from me, hiding her face under a large paw.

I ignored the warning and tried to reach once again for her. "Come on Mandy. Let's go back home. The coast is clear but if the Monster King comes again, I'll be sure to take him down. He cast a spell on me before but it won't be so easy next time."

"Cyrus?" said Mandy. "He's been dealt with and won't trouble you anymore. We reached an accord."

"What are you talking about?" Who was Cyrus? I had an inkling that it was the name of the Monster King. Yet it sounded so…normal. I knew then that I was missing something. It was as if I were the only one that hadn't been told the punchline to a joke. "Come on, Mandy. Let's go. I want to go home with my friend. And that's you."

She snorted. "Haven't you heard a word I said, Evie? I can't. Not like this. I'm too different and scary looking now. You won't want to be my friend. But I can create a portal for you to return to your world. You and your parents will be safe from the Monster King. As long as I remain here."

"Why?"

"I can't tell you. Please, Evie, don't make this any harder than it has to be."

"I don't understand," I said. "Mandy, why won't you come with me."

Mandy poked her head out. It was nothing like how I remembered. I didn't know if it was the magic of the Monster King that had transformed her, but she had grown incredibly long and menacing fangs. Where once there had been smooth skin, Mandy was now covered in a thick layer of grey fur. She was like a huge hulking cross between a wolf and a lion.

Even though she looked so very different, the expression of wry amusement on her face was still the same. As were her mismatched eyes. I took some comfort in that. "Silly Evie, do I have to spell out everything for you?" Humour tinged her voice. "Go home. Everyone is waiting for you."

And suddenly in front of me, a golden portal opened. Staring through it, I could see the underside of my bed and a few of my toys that had yet to be properly packed up. It was my room. I glanced back up at Mandy and offered my hand once again. To go back without her seemed like a heavy price to pay and she was my dearest and bestest friend.

"Hurry Evie. I can't keep it open for long. Just now that I'll always be looking out for you."

I didn't want to go. I didn't want to leave my friend.

Maybe it was a spell but I felt something push me into the shining gateway. When I next opened my eyes, I was tucked away in my bed. Grandma was once again seated next to me on a stiff stool, her knitting resting gently on her knees. The sun was shining through the window and when I looked at the alarm clock on my bedside table, I could see that it was nearly ten in the morning.

I was back in my house. This time, it was real. I could feel it in my bones. As I sat there, I felt overwhelmed by a great tidal wave of both sadness and loneliness. Tears welled up from the corners of my tears and before I could stop them, they spilled over. Grandma woke to find me sobbing. I was inconsolable.

It was as she was trying to convince me to have something to eat that the doorbell rang.

Still thoroughly worried, she left me in the kitchen with a plate of toast and my favourite Nutella before venturing out to see who might have come calling. Munching on my food, I heard the door open and then an audible gasp. Fearing the worst, I picked up the butter knife from the table and ran to the door.

Mum and dad greeted me, hale and hearty as ever. They smiled when they caught sight of me, though dad seemed a little alarmed to see me wielding a weapon. Before I knew it, I was in their arms. A warmth descended upon me as I basked in their love, comforted by the fact that they were safe. I was home and so were my parents. This was how it was meant to be.

When I finally pulled away, mum had another surprise for me. On their way home, she told me, they had chanced upon a tiny bedraggled kitten. Turning towards the door, she reached down and brought forth a box. Laying curled inside was a most inquisitive creature of purest white. But it was the colour of its eyes that gave her away. I gave a yelp of delighted surprise and leaned forward to pick it up. It mewled softly as I did and nuzzled the palm my face when I brought it close.

"So, Evelyn, what are you going to call her?"

There was only one name that came to mind and I thought it suited her right down to the tip of her brushy tail. "Mandy."